They called him the Asian Iron Man, a title befitting the only Asian ever to set a world record in the decathlon, the ten-event, two-day athletic event that is as grueling an athletic competition there is.
As the first non-Westerner to set a world record for the decathlon in 1963, experts pegged C. K. Yang as a heavy favorite to win gold in Tokyo in 1964, and prompted this profile in the August, 1964 edition of the popular magazine, Boy’s Life. In this article, they wrote about Yang’s humble origins, a small, sickly boy. Not mentioned in the article was that he was born in the poorest, most isolated part of mainland Taiwan – Taidong.
So when the arguably greatest athlete in Asian history provides his list of key behaviors for training for championship performance, the readers of Boy’s Life might have taken note:
- Discipline yourself.
- Practice with a purpose.
- Don’t just run and run, and then go home.
- Watch people running.
- Appreciate what your coaches are doing for you.
Let ‘s look at a couple in detail:
Determination. “Want to do it, know that you can do it, then DO IT!”
Yang came up with Nike’s famous marketing phrase years before the company was created…but he knew from experience that being determined is a good part of the battle. When he made the cut to represent Taiwan in the Asian Games in 1954, he was probably going to compete in the broad jump or the high jump. When he went to his country’s training camp in preparation of the Asian Games, he began fiddling with other disciplines. He explained this in detail in this Sports Illustrated article:
Yang’s curiosity and competitive drive moved him to experiment with other events, hitherto strange to him. He set up a bicycle and used it as an impromptu hurdle. He read a Japanese book on hurdling – Yang speaks and reads Japanese fluently because of his schooling under the Japanese occupation – and studied its illustration. “I tried to bring the whole thing together in my mind,” he said, but his coach became irritated because Yang was not concentrating on his jumping. Yang said, “I told him I just can’t jump every day. If I practice hurdling today, maybe tomorrow I can jump more higher.” And I did. I jumped 2 or 3 inches higher.
And as the article continues, Yang did the same for javelin, the discus and the shotput, excelling in this new events to the point where the coach had to say, “How’d you like to try decathlon?”
Appreciate what your coaches are doing for you. Appreciate the fine equipment you have to work with, and then give your best. I came all the way to this country to take advantage of the coaching and equipment available here. Through track I have received an education, and because of this, I have given track everything I have.
In the Sports Illustrated article, Yang tells this touching story about how people need to have empathy for others who try so hard. He explained to the author of the article, Robert Creamer, that people made fun of him when he was about 15, and he suddenly grew. He was so tall and thin compared to his friends that people derisively nicknamed him “Bamboo”, and laughed at him, which Yang was understandably sensitive to. He told this story about how his baseball coach helped him gain his confidence.
In practice when I throw the ball I was – so funny form, you know? I couldn’t throw hard. The athletes start laughing at me. I was so happy to join them, and I was so embarrassed when they laugh at me. The coach was mad. He bawled them out who laughed, and he said, “if you laugh at people someday he will be much better than you are. You better not laugh at people. You never know. He have a long way to go, and maybe he can learn faster than you and someday laugh at you. Put yourself in that position. Suppose people laugh at you. How do you respond to them? How do you feel?” Said, “think about it.” And they didn’t laugh at me anymore.
Yang is determined to improve, and he develops into a very good pitcher who could throw a wide variety of pitches.
And then we had a big game – the players and the coach and some teachers all mixed together on the same team to represent the school. We won the game and a big, big cup. Afterward we had a banquet, and the coach said again, he review what he said to the athletes who laughed at me. Two of them cried, you know?
Such was this boy’s life, filled with lessons, redemptions and success.
To watch C K Yang train, click on the image below.